Councillor calls on MLA to address Vernon homelessness - InfoNews

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Councillor calls on MLA to address Vernon homelessness

A homeless camp in Vernon, Oct. 24, 2016.
December 01, 2016 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - The provincial government says it’s doing its best to address issues of homelessness in Vernon.

During a discussion around the high cost of cleaning up decommissioned homeless camps Tuesday, Vernon city councillor Juliette Cunningham said she wanted to bring the provincial government to the table to discuss the bigger picture of poverty and homelessness.

“We are doing what we can, we’re trying to do it in a compassionate matter, but the fact is I’m not hearing enough directly from our MLA about where he sits on this issue. What is he doing to advocate for this community?” Cunningham said.

Cunningham expressed her desire to meet with MLA Eric Foster over homelessness concerns.

In an interview, Foster said he would be happy to meet with city council and believes the province is already doing a lot when it comes to homelessness. 

“I hate to think of anyone in this country in this day and age not having a roof over their head,” Foster said.

He said the province has spent millions of dollars to address issues in Vernon over the past year alone, including roughly $2.7 million for emergency shelter and housing for the homeless and $1.1 million in rent subsidies. He also drew attention to the province’s recent purchase of the former Journey Inn motel, which has been renovated into an affordable housing complex called Blair Apartments run by the John Howard Society.

Social agencies have previously applauded investments like the Blair Apartments, but said more is needed.

“We always need more,” Foster said. “That (Blair Apartments) is a $2.2 million investment in the community, and then the ongoing operation of it, all being paid for by B.C. Housing…. We keep doing it and do the best we can.”

He acknowledged that mental health and substance abuse must also be addressed.

“Probably the biggest challenge when it comes to the camps is a lot of the folks on the street have mental health or addiction issues. We have clinics, we offer help with different agencies that do a lot of work with folks, and we just keep doing it as best we can.”

He said Rich Coleman, Minister Responsible for Housing, and Premier Christy Clark are in touch with the federal government regarding the creation of a national housing strategy.

“The conversation is ongoing… and the federal government appears to be anxious to get something happening,” Foster said.

North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold was not available for an interview Thursday or Friday because he was sitting in the House of Commons.

The City of Vernon spent roughly $30,000 cleaning up three dismantled homeless camps this year.


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